Facebook Inc. (FB) Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg is to meet today with a commissioner of a U.S. agency asked to probe whether the social network is violating a settlement over its privacy practices.
Maureen Ohlhausen, a Republican on the Democrat-led Federal Trade Commission, said in an interview she has a meeting scheduled in Washington with the Facebook executive.
“It’s just a general meet-and-greet,” Ohlhausen said. “I’m sure we’ll cover privacy along with other topics.”
Privacy advocates last month asked the FTC to investigate what they called changes by Facebook to use members’ images and content for commercials without their consent. Facebook said it had adopted new language about practices that hadn’t changed since its 2011 agreement with the FTC.
“They’re bringing out their heavy guns,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based privacy group, said in an interview. “Sandberg’s being sent to do damage control.”
Sandberg’s foray quickens the tempo of involvement in Washington by the world’s biggest social network, with 1 billion customers. Co-founder Mark Zuckerberg visited lawmakers last month and asked them to grant more visas for skilled immigrant workers, he told an audience in a conference space at the foot of Capitol Hill.
Sandberg’s meeting was reported earlier by Politico.
Chester’s Washington-based privacy group was joined in last month’s complaint to the FTC by groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Consumer Watchdog.
The FTC’s staff has met with privacy advocates to discuss Facebook’s changes, Chester said. U.S. Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has asked the agency whether the changes violate a 2011 FTC consent decree agreed to by the Menlo Park, California-based company. The 20-year agreement requires Facebook to get users’ consent before sharing material posted under earlier terms.
Visiting Ohlhausen is “a very smart move by Facebook,” David Balto, a former policy director at the FTC, said in an interview. “Ohlhausen is just a critical voice, because she understands and can articulate the industry perspectives so well.”
Ohlhausen was an attorney at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP when nominated by President Barack Obama in 2011 to serve on the commission. She worked at the FTC from 1997 to 2008 in various posts, including as director of the office of policy planning and an adviser to a Republican commissioner.
Privacy regulators should also consider competition, Ohlhausen said in speeches this year. Government restrictions may favor entrenched entities that already have information over new entrants, and consumers who don’t allow data collection may no longer be exposed to offers by competitors, Ohlhausen told a digital advertisers’ gathering in Washington in June.
The FTC is closed as part of the partial government shutdown that began Oct. 1.
Elisabeth Diana, a Facebook spokeswoman, in an e-mail declined to comment.
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